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I am a final year PhD in UK in a scientific discipline and I am writing my thesis. I have already published 2 journal papers and I have submitted 2 more papers for publications. My department does not allow a "publications-based" thesis so I need to write a thesis in the context of a book etc.

As I write my thesis in a couple of places, especially in the literature review, I tend to reuse sentences from my publications. I try to restate them a bit, maybe change some words for their synonyms etc. but it is practically me writing about what I wrote before. It goes without saying that I cite/quote me at the end of a passage if I say something non-obvious (I found that slightly funny. :) ). The problem is that occasionally I am just explaining for instance how a certain estimation technique works; in that case I cite the original authors and not myself. The syntax in those occasions though is practically the same as the original passage I used in my publication; as I have explained it once and was consider good, I find no reason to reinvent myself (I do a mild rewording as I mentioned but that is quite insignificant). Same things goes for listings. I do cite my paper in the beginning of a big list as the list's source but the list itself is almost identical as the one in "my" paper; in those cases I don't use quotations, just attribution "[]".

Is there an obvious guideline? The basic definition of plagiarism "reproducing the work of another person's as your own" is not (directly) applicable to me because I am the other person (almost *); if I am using other people's work I do cite them but I don't cite myself, citing them, in quotation marks!

I am a bit "fuzzy" about how not to plagiarize myself in my thesis (I have had no problem regarding my journal publications).

(* In all publications mentioned I am the first -but not sole- author.)

  • Did you look at the other question ? – scaaahu Sep 1 '13 at 4:30
  • @scaaahu: This is a slightly different question, asking about how to use papers when a "stapler" or "sandwich" thesis is not allowed, although the answer is similar. – aeismail Sep 1 '13 at 4:32
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    This is one reason why this entire "self-plagiarism" notion is ridiculous. The word has been usurped to mean something which it is not, stealing another's work. It should be called what it is, duplicate publication. There are issues with copyright when reusing ones own work, however the ethics should be clear, plagiarism is stealing another's work and presenting it as one's own, which is far worse than duplicate publication, or passing off past work as new. The latter is unethical, but it is not plagiarism! – daaxix Sep 3 '15 at 22:40
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    Additionally, companies like iThenticate are now capitalizing on this trend. As a scientist, I want a concise, clear, and well worded paragraph describing some method, phenomenon, or mathematical model. For many scientists, such paragraphs are often reproduced over and over again since they work in narrow subfields, even when the meat of a publication is new, the introduction, methods, etc. may be refined to a point where it is about the best it can be. Should this then be re-worded just to avoid being flagged by iThenticate and clones? I don't think so, but it appears that we are headed there – daaxix Sep 3 '15 at 22:47
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Even if your department does not allow a "stapler" thesis, it is entirely reasonable to expect that you should be able to freely use this material in a thesis. In general, I would expect that you would have to include a copyright statement similar in form to hose that would be used were you to copy the entire paper outright.

To cover against charges of plagiarism, I would simply acknowledge something like "Some passages have been quoted verbatim from the following sources," and list them. Also, when you reuse figures, I'd include the "reprinted with permission" tag.

Finally, ask your advisor or other members of your department for guidance! Since you're not the only person subject to this restriction, they've gone through this situation before, and can provide you with information on how former students have handled this.

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The letter of the copyright law is extremely weird in such cases (formally you may need to request a permission from the journal editor to reproduce something, especially a picture, you made and submitted there yourself a few years ago, if you have assigned copyrights-some journals require copyright transfer, some do not). However, the spirit of the law is that you are free to use your own work several times even if you assigned your copyright away as long as you clearly state that it is not the first time you present (this is not required if you both retain all the rights and no originality expected) it and that the previous publications are such and such. To be on the safe side, write to the editors and request a permission to reprint (it is automatic unless the editor is an evil villain having personal grudge against you). However anyone trying to accuse you of using your own work without his permission will make such a fool of himself in the scientific world that his reputation there will plummet to negative infinity, so I don't think the chances of trouble are above those that some crank will accuse you of plagiarizing his work or that the outcome of the accusation, if it occurs, will be essentially different.

  • Thanks, given your answer and that of Peter's I guess I need to come in contact with an editor indeed. – user8448 Sep 1 '13 at 17:48
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    Correction: you are mostly right about plagiarism issues, but not about copyright. Self-plagiarism is a real thing (and misconduct in some cases)—but reusing your papers in your thesis (with citation!) is completely fine. "The spirit of the law is that you are free to use your own work several times even if you assigned your copyright away" seems wrong about copyright. Publishers' copyright transfers can have specific provisions for theses (ACM has), but I strongly believe they're needed. – Blaisorblade Jul 11 '17 at 6:23
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The papers you have published and that my be under review in a journal require permission to rproduce. It is therefore necessary to write to the journals and ask for permission to reproduce the contents in a thesis. I have heard of journals that refuse but they are very few. What you should remember, however, is that the copyright usually covers the final product or versions of the manuscript that have been altered as a result of work done within the journal, in other words gone through or in some stage of review. It would therefore be safe to reproduce your original submitted manuscript. You will need to acknowledge the permissions in your thesis (e.g. if you include a list of published paers and manuscripts in prep.).

All this may seem complicated but I have not experienced any publisher that has refused reproduction (either of a reprint or the text itself) in a thesis. After all, publishers live off of scientists writing papers and a PhD candidate (and scientists involved with her/him) is another "customer" to put it bluntly. It would therefore potentially be pretty self-destructive to refuse use of materials for a thesis with very limited distrubution.

Under any circumstances, please contact publishersand tell them what you intend to do andaskfor permission. Also check on the copyrights (which you usually sign at some point during the publication process. It is "better safe that sorry" that applies. And, I repeat, I would be surprised if you are given a no.

EDIT: A good way to find out what "your" journal adheres to is ot use the SHERPA/RoMEO site classification for self-archiving. They use a four part classification as follows:

green - can archive pre-print and post-print or publisher's version/PDF

blue - can archive post-print (i.e. final draft post-refereeing) or publisher's version/PDF

yellow - can archive pre-print (i.e. pre-refereeing)

white - archiving not formally supported

The level or archiving indcates what also falls under the copyright agreement of each journal and hence also what you may be free to reproduce in a thesis, and what you are not.

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    Most of the copyright transfer agreements I met so far explicitly say that you retain the right to reuse your paper for a thesis. Depending on the exact wording, you may not even need to ask for permission. – cbeleites Sep 1 '13 at 13:44
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    and that my be under review — Huh? Transfer of copyright only happens after the paper is accepted. What am I missing? – JeffE Sep 1 '13 at 15:24
  • @JeffE The fact that one may easily sign the transfer without reading after all passages are reproduced but before the thesis appears in print, i.e., that human beings are forgetful and lazy by nature (I am, at least). However you are 100% right from the formal standpoint. – fedja Sep 1 '13 at 16:07
  • Also, many publishers have either explicitly posted policies stating exactly what is required or "clearance websites" where such permissions can be obtained. – aeismail Sep 1 '13 at 17:27
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    Thank you for the SHERPA/RoMEO website, it was really helpful. (Apparently my currently submitted work is on "green" journals, my published one on a "yellow" and a "white" one...) I will look the copyright agreements in detail. – user8448 Sep 1 '13 at 17:44
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I use sentences like "The results described in this chapter have been published as [xx]." or "This chapter gives the argumentation published in [yy]".

However, my primary reason for this is less concern about self-plagiarism (papes and thesis are in different languages) than pointing out that these findings/developments have passed peer-review during a publication process. But if you give the appropriate citations also to your paper, I think it is important to make it easy for the reader to see whether the citation is your contribution or not.


slightly off-topic: I even go one step further and at the very beginning (in a section about abbreviations, symbols and conventions) explain that papers [1 - x] were written in direct connection with the thesis, and are put to the front of the literature list to allow the reader to easily detect my contributions to the field. You could also solve this by giving reference lists "my contributions" and "other people's contributions" (similar to how some fields give primary literature lists and secondary literature lists).

  • Interesting suggestion (about the literature lists), thank you. – user8448 Sep 1 '13 at 17:46
  • With regard to your slightly off-topic comment, that only works in fields where the norm is for the bibliography to be sorted in order of citation. In many fields (e.g., pure maths and computer science), the bibliography is normally sorted alphabetically by first author so this trick wouldn't work. – David Richerby Apr 23 '14 at 9:29
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Are your papers really your own papers, or maybe you have some coauthors? That's when it becomes complicated. It will be hard to claim that the text you copied is exclusively your own work when the original paper is drafted and signed off by other people. On the other hand the thesis should be your own work exclusively.

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    That is the primary difference between "stapler thesis" style and the reuse discussed here -- in the stapler method the thesis will contain contributions of coauthors. But repeating one's own contributions is still perfectly fine, and the automatic assumption will be that the parts so used are the portions which the thesis author was responsible in the earlier work; only the coauthors themselves will have any basis for thinking otherwise. So it's worth noting that one shouldn't claim the work of coauthors as one's own, but that possibility hardly disqualifies use of prior published work. – Ben Voigt Dec 12 '14 at 14:58
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If you quote from your own paper, you may have to justify to the degrees committee how much of the paper was your work. If you are first author, it should be no problem, otherwise can you put a figure on what percentage was your own work ? Even if not all your own work, if the actual research was done by you, it should be possible to put a different slant on it. Having your ideas published already helps with the defence, as you can demonstrate successful peer review

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Talk to your advisor/sponsor of your thesis!!!

Read your school's and department's policy of plagiarism. Some will include "self-pgagiarism" some don't.

It is all up to the advisor and school. If they accept it, then it is fine. If they do not accept it, it is not fine.

If you are the copyright holder (or have rights), then there is no legal issue. Even if you aren't the holder, there are provisions in the law for academic references.

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